Louise Franklin-Ramirez, D.C. Activist, Dies at 97

By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 18, 2003; Page B04


Louise Franklin-Ramirez, 97, whose lengthy career as a Washington educator was matched by an even longer record of public protest, died Aug. 6 at Prince William Hospital in Manassas. She had congestive heart failure.

Mrs. Franklin-Ramirez, a Manassas resident, was a native Washingtonian and began teaching in the D.C. public schools in 1928. She retired in 1976 after 12 years as a roving consultant, helping learning-disabled children to read.

A ubiquitous campaigner, more recently from her wheelchair, she liked to blend her interest in a broad swath of causes with her love of protest theater. She carried bouquets of dead roses, dressed up as first lady Nancy Reagan and used other tactics that accentuated her flair for the dramatic. She succeeded in varying degrees over the years but seemed to draw energy from her earliest memories of being in the streets.

Her first exercise in crusading came as a 12-year-old. She was inspired by her Episcopal church to care for refugees and those orphaned after the Turkish massacre of the Armenians. With her mother's aid, she held a neighborhood strawberry festival to raise money for relief groups.

She said her public activism -- on issues ranging from racial integration to nuclear proliferation to toys that glorified war and violence -- was rooted in her concern for future generations of children. She courted arrest to prove her devotion to causes, and her advanced age lent a poignancy to her actions.

In 1981, her desire for police attention had a dangerous outcome. She had a heart attack while chained to a post office door, protesting the resumption of registration for the military draft.

That debilitating turn of events became the foundation for her third marriage, when she asked a fellow activist four decades her junior to care for her. They married in 1986 and together started letter-writing campaigns and gave speeches.

Louise Elizabeth Franklin was the daughter of a government accountant and a homemaker. She was a graduate of the old Central High School and what became the University of the District of Columbia. (In her late eighties, she protested budget cuts at UDC.)

She received a master's degree in education from Columbia University and did postgraduate work in education at such schools as Georgetown University, George Washington University and the University of Chicago, where she studied under Bruno Bettelheim.

She spent about 15 years teaching at Horace Mann Elementary School. During that time, she became involved in the struggle to have simultaneous training of black and white teachers.

She then moved to Puerto Rico with her second husband and opened a toy store specializing in products that emphasized group play and harmony, such as marionettes. She opened a similar store, Georgetown Toys and Crafts, when she moved back to the Washington area in the early 1950s.

Decades later, she helped found the Toys of Peace campaign, which rallied against GI Joe figurines and other toys with a military emphasis.

During Virginia's massive resistance to public school desegregation, she went to Prince Edward County, which closed its public schools instead of submitting to court-ordered integration. She helped teach black students so that they would be prepared upon reentering school.

In the early 1970s, she used government information to create a comprehensive catalog of contaminated and potentially contaminated radioactive sites in the United States and Canada. Her map of sites was included in early editions of "Nuclear Madness," a book by anti-nuclear activist Helen Caldicott.

Mrs. Franklin-Ramirez also spoke out against the U.S. atomic attack on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II and its affects on survivors and their offspring.

Starting in the 1970s, as a member of the Gray Panthers senior citizens' advocacy group, she spoke about a cross-generational burden to fight powerful interests.

"The children must be made to feel the responsibility they have in this world," she told The Washington Post at a 1985 nuclear disarmament rally. "They are going through changing times which could mean the end of their world."

Her marriages to Carl Frazier and Gilberto Ramirez ended in divorce.

Besides her third husband, of Manassas, survivors include three children from her second marriage, Dr. Lincoln Ramirez of Madison, Wis., Martha Ramirez Luehrmann of Berkeley, Calif., and Dr. Gilma Ramirez of Israel; a sister; six grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.


Wednesday, August 20, 2003; Page B06

The obituary for Louise Franklin-Ramirez on Aug. 18 omitted the name of her third husband, John Steinbach.



Letter to Editor
Washington Post Letters to the Editor / Free For All

Dear Editor:

I appreciated the obituary written by Adam Bernstein on August 18, 2003, "Louise Franklin-Ramirez, D.C. Activist, Dies at 97."

However, there are a couple of comments I'd like to add.

First, it was ironic that the obituary was published on the same day that the Post announced the new exhibit of the Enola Gay. Louise died on the 58th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing by the Enola Gay on August 6, 1945. From the day she learned of it, Louise was implacably opposed to nuclear weapons and radioactive waste, and did all that she could to educate people about the dangers. In 1981, Louise co-founded the Hiroshima-Nagasaki Peace Committee, which each year during the week of August 5-9 has brought "Hibakusha," or Japanese survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs, to speak at various events in DC, Maryland, and Virginia. Two Hibakusha were in D.C. the day Louise died. This was the first year that Louise was unable to greet them.

Secondly, the "Radiation Hazards USA" map Adam Bernstein mentioned in the obituary can be seen at http://prop1.org/prop1/radiated/drh.htm . Louise developed this map with the help of her husband, John Steinbach, who should have been named in the obituary but was not. Despite their four decades' age difference, John was deeply devoted to Louise for over twenty-two years, and the two of them accomplished wonders. It was thanks to John Steinbach that Louise was celebrated in Hiroshima at the age of 94.

There will be a memorial for Louise Franklin-Ramirez on Sunday, September 21, 2003, at the University of the District of Columbia Auditorium, tentatively at 3:00 p.m. Helen Caldicott will be one of many speakers. Please call the university for details.

Ellen Thomas
Washington, DC